Patricia de Lille firing opens can of worms in the DA
Fallout in opposition could see Maimane taking on old guard
The DA is headed for a major political showdown as the daggers are drawn for the party's federal council chairman, James Selfe, over his handling of the attempted axing of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.
The move to push Selfe out could pit DA leader Mmusi Maimane against the party's longest-serving federal council chairperson.
The Sunday Times can reveal that senior leaders are pointing fingers at Selfe for the "embarrassing" manner in which the party handled the De Lille case.
DA insiders indicated this week that Maimane and chief whip John Steenhuisen were among those who have privately expressed unhappiness over Selfe's management of the De Lille affair.
It is believed some will call for his removal from the top position at the party's next federal council meeting, next month.
However, other leaders who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity indicated they would come to Selfe's defence.Should Maimane take on Selfe and win, it could strengthen his grip and end the perception that he is a puppet leader. But should he lose, he risks ending his political career.
Either way, taking on Selfe would have serious implications for the DA a year before the country goes to the polls. It could cause further cracks in the party and isolate those who may feel he is being victimised.
Sources said Maimane, Steenhuisen and other DA leaders started pointing fingers at Selfe after the high court ruled that De Lille be reinstated.
Those arguing for Selfe to fall on his sword say the DA's argument that De Lille forfeited her party membership when she told 702 she was ready to walk away weakened the party's case.
They say the party should have stuck to invoking its recall clause, which empowers it to remove defiant public representatives.
Selfe told the Sunday Times that decisions related to the De Lille matter were not taken by him, but by a leadership collective. "The decisions about how to deal with the De Lille matter were at all times taken by the federal executive as a collective, and how we decide to pursue this matter will likewise be discussed by the federal executive," he said.
Maimane, speaking through his spokeswoman, Portia Adams, declined to comment yesterday. "We do not comment on internal matters. We are focusing on preparing for the coming election."
Insiders sympathetic to Selfe said the move to push him out had nothing to do with the De Lille matter but was a strategy by a group of leaders who wanted to save their parliamentary seats ahead of the elections.
The Sunday Times understands that the DA fedex, the party's highest decision-making body, met after the party's caucus in the Cape Town council passed a motion of no confidence in De Lille.
STRIPPED OF MEMBERSHIP
The intention was to give De Lille 48 hours to vacate her office. But Free State leader Patricia Kopane warned that De Lille could take the party to court and win. Instead, Kopane proposed a "short cut" - refer De Lille's comments in the 702 interview to the party's federal legal commission.
It was that commission, headed by Glynnis Breytenbach, that recommended De Lille be stripped of her membership.
Insiders said Selfe presented the commission's report to a fedex teleconference. But Selfe's backers said it was Maimane who led the charge against De Lille.
It emerged this week that only KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango voted against De Lille's dismissal.
Another DA leader said that Steenhuisen, because of his frosty relationship with the DA leadership in KwaZulu-Natal, was unlikely to be sent back to parliament, but replacing Selfe with his ally could ensure Steenhuisen's return to parliament.Selfe's sympathisers said they were aware of moves to deal with him, but questioned the motive, arguing this was nothing but "re-mobilisation" against him by those who had wanted, but failed, to challenge his re-election at the DA federal congress in April.
In the run-up to the federal council, Steenhuisen was lobbied to challenge Selfe but declined after realising the veteran remained popular among DA structures.
Steenhuisen distanced himself from those targeting Selfe, saying it would be difficult to single out an individual at fault in the De Lille saga.
"Obviously there has been concern about the matter [the De Lille case] and the dragging on ... [of] the court stuff of last week and now the further delay, but I think that's the general concern. I think it will be hard for people to blame individuals when in fact every decision that has been made has been a fedex decision."
DA leaders in Gauteng were said to be among those seeking answers on the De Lille matter, but provincial leader John Moodey said he would express himself only at the federal council meeting.